Essential Architecture- Search by architect

William Henry Barlow

William Henry Barlow (1812-1902) was an English civil engineer of the 19th century, particularly associated with railway engineering projects.

Early life and education

Born in Charlton in south-east London, the son of an engineer and mathematician (Professor Peter Barlow, who taught at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich), William Barlow grew up close to Woolwich Dockyard and his formative years as an engineer were spent studying with his father and working in the Dockyard’s machinery department.

He then spent six years working as an engineer in Constantinople, Turkey, helping build an ordnance factory on behalf of Henry Maudslay’s machine tool company (and working on some lighthouses in the Bosphorus), before returning to take up a post as assistant engineer on the Manchester and Birmingham (London and North-Western) Railway (1838), after which he joined the Midland Railway (1842).

He formed his own consulting practice in 1857, but remained a consultant for the Midland Railway.

An active member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Barlow became involved in several ICE initiatives, including the design of the building used for the Great Exhibition of 1851, and the realisation of the Clifton Suspension Bridge after the death of the celebrated Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1859.

As chief engineer for the Midland Railway, Barlow was responsible for sections of the main railway lines between London and the east Midlands. The route’s most famous landmark is the train shed at its London terminus: St Pancras Station (1864-68), which Barlow designed with Rowland Mason Ordish. This has an arched cast iron and steel canopy with a 74 m (243 ft) span – then the longest of its kind in the world. The canopy is 213 m (700 ft) long and about 30 m (100 ft) high.

His brother Peter W. Barlow was also a noted engineer, whose major contributions included new developments in tunnelling shields in conjunction with James Henry Greathead – a pupil of William Barlow’s during the late 1860s.

Barlow was a Fellow of the Royal Society from 1850, and was elected as President of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1879. His leading role in the profession led to his appointment as a member of the Board of Trade Enquiry that investigated the disastrous failure of the railway bridge across the River Tay near Dundee in 1879 (the Tay Rail Bridge Disaster). He then led the design of the replacement bridge (1882-87). During the same period, he also helped check the designs for the Forth Bridge, west of Edinburgh.

William Barlow lived in Charlton at Highcombe, 145 Charlton Road (blue plaque).

Trainshed, Clock, and Brick Wall,

Designer: William Henry Barlow

Builders: Butterley Company


Photograph and text by George P. Landow

In this part of the structure, engineering and architecture join, or at least appear juxtaposed to each another. According to Carol Meeks, "St. Pancras' metal work was at first painted brown in view of the dark deposits which were expected eventually to encrust it, but Mr. Allport, a director, ultimately persuaded Barlow and Scott to repaint it sky blue. Why did the latter have to be persuaded? Had the brown decades already come to England? There was nothing drab about Scott's adjoining hotel" (p. 86n12).

"The arch of the glass-and-iron train shed spans 240 feet and is over 100 feet high at its apex. This superb construction was an outstanding feat of Victorian engineering. When it was completed the massive roof, designed by William Henry Barlow, was the largest in the world. The roof is supported at ground-floor level by 690 cast-iron columns. This level was designed as a huge storage area for beer transported from Burton-on-Trent" [""].

Crook, J. Mordaunt. The Dilemma of Style: Architectural Ideas from the Picturesque to the Post-Modern. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

Meeks, Carol L. V. The Victorian Railroad Station: An Architectural History. New Haven: Yale UP, 1956.